A Necessary, Modern Revision
Aristotle studied and explained a wide range of subjects ranging from science to politics and is widely recognized as one of the greatest philosophers of all time. One of his most important contributions to the study of humanities is his exploration and definition of moral virtue. In his book, The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains different views about the nature of life in order to allow the reader to find what the main function of life is and how to successfully perform that function. For example, Aristotle states in his first book, in article one, “every art and every investigation, and similarly every action and pursuit is considered to aim at some good.” Hence, Aristotle defines the “good” as that which all things should aim. However, what separates humans from other “things” is the fact that humans seek the good in order to achieve eudemonia, or happiness. In order to achieve this result, a human must function well, and would therefore be acting with rational activity. So, if a person performs the function of rational activity well, they have acted with moral reasoning, acting virtuously to achieve eudemonia. In summary, Aristotle believes the good, or virtue, is in a human’s self-interest because of the results it produces. However, I strongly believe that, to classical philosophers, achieving virtue was a broader concept that its modern connotation suggests. It is commonly known that certain theories can be considered obsolete over time if not restated in a modern day context, because as society advances, there is a need for theories and ideas to accommodate and make room for such changes in order to maintain their relevance So, in order to adapt Aristotle’s theory of the good, also known as Aristotle’s virtue theory, into modern day life, different theorists and philosophers became interested in reevaluating the theory and adding to it in order to achieve a successful and newer theory for humans to consider. I want to discuss the most popular theories recreated from Aristotle’s virtue theory to prove that there is, in fact, a need to modernize and restate his original concept, there is not a need to disregard it or substantially add to it. I believe that his theory must simply be presented through a modern outlook to be used as a guideline as to how humans should act instead of a set group of rules that could possible contradict each other. There are many different theories to consider when trying to find the best adaptation of Aristotle’s virtue theory, they range from supplementary views to non-supplementary and non-criterialists.
For example, Supplementalists such as James Rachels believe in supplementing Aristotle’s theory of the good with an independent theory of right action. Whereas, non-Supplementalists can be further split into criterialists such as Rosalind Hursthouse, who believes that happiness can be objective, and non-criterialists such as Julia Annas, who believes that virtue theory does not need any criteria of right action because a truly virtuous person would never get into a situation where a criteria of right action would be needed. These theories differ on core principles and methods of adaptation, some even disagree with parts of Aristotle’s theory; however, they all have some form of agreement with respect to Aristotle’s theory of the good and can be used to enhance it for its adaptation into modern day context. After my evaluations of each philosopher’s view points, I have found the most practical and least contradicting theory in Julia Annas’ essay, “Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing.” Her essay delves into not only the original concept of Aristotle’s virtue theory, but also discusses the consequences of abiding by those guidelines in modern day. Her theory allows Aristotle’s theory to remain intact, however she refreshes it to the modern connotation it needed to be more commonly accepted by today’s society.
Cited: Annas, Julia. "Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing." Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (2004): 61-75.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. 325 B.C.
Hursthouse, Rosalind. "Virtue Theory and Abortion." Philosophy and Public Affairs 20.3 (1991): 223-246.
Rachel, James. "The Ethics of Virtue." 1996. Norman R. Shultz. November 2010 <http://www.normanrschultz.org/Courses/Ethics/Rachels_virtueethics.pdf>.
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